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Suffer Well: 3 Reasons to Suffer with Confidence

Updated: Oct 11, 2021

A Fighter’s Edge:

Prosperity has a unique potential in building dullness and complacency that works against the hearts and mind of a person. In combat sports, for example, the glitz and glamour of Hollywood fame and fortune has a way of stealing and minimizing the hunger and edge (the-eye-of-the-tiger) of any up-and-coming fighter. There are countless stories of top tier prospects at the peak of their combative careers training in worn-down, dungeon-like gyms as a way of keeping their edge. They do not want to be pampered nor do they want to be coddled. They desire to relive the harshness of their upbringing as a mode of sustaining their voracity. The over emphasis of one’s press clippings can infiltrate faulty misconceptions. In the fight-game, you need to maintain an edge; if not, you are already halfway out!


Suffering in Mind:


Suffering is commonplace for the body of believers (or at least it should be). Yet, in the West where much of our societal make-up has been influenced by Judeo-Christian values and the prosperity of technological advancements has led to further instillment in quality of living (which is not bad in-and-of-itself nor is it anti-Christian), the church has become—to use a fighter’s phrase—soft. That is, the church does not have a foundational theology to understand and engage with suffering. Thus, this article will focus on three key components to the reality of suffering: (1) suffering is natural for Christ-followers, (2) suffering is used by God to sanctify His children, and (3) suffering shows us that Christ is enough.


Our Allegiance to Christ is Counterintuitive to the World. In the church’s union with Christ, it is not if believers will face suffering, but rather when they will face suffering that is of the upmost importance. Suffering is inevitable. As pilgrims, sojourners, and wanderers in this broken and depraved world, believers are to function counterintuitively to the spirit of this age (cf. Rom. 12:2). Our allegiance, then, is contrary to the dominion of darkness and hostile toward the god of this world (cf. 2 Cor. 4:4). The church is, as the Apostle Peter articulates, “elect exiles” (1 Pet. 1:1) whose aim is to shine in the midst of a dying world (1 Pet. 2:9). This shining, which is done through the presence as His church empowered by His Spirit, brings about a paradoxical existence. Suffering is the order of the day. We are called, in turn, to press up and against the societal currents and presuppositional formation of modern sensibilities. In doing so, the natural outflow will be a certain degree of persecution, maltreatment, and, yes, suffering. We should not, according to Peter, “be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Pet. 4:12). These phenomena though difficult must be embraced with the anchor of Christ as our hope and comfort.


Furthermore, the essence of eternal life grafted in the work and Person of Christ is paradigmatically opposed to the characteristics of this dying world. That is, what we would call natural repercussions found within sicknesses, natural disasters, and, ultimately, physical death are part and parcel to the decay of this fallen finite cosmos. Thus, by experiencing these realities, the church is reminded of her true home and hope. As the Apostle Paul rightly asserts, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor. 4:16). The church is to live with the anticipation of hope which is forged through the culmination of Christ’s reign and return. This world and its passions are wasting away (1 Jn. 2:17) and, as such, those who have been illuminated by the Spirit are sealed to “[set] your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). The (super)natural disposition and posture of the believer, then, is counterintuitive to this current age and, thus, postures the church toward suffering which will notovertake our assurance.


We are Being Weened from This World. The sufferings that we face are tools in the providential hand of God to ween regenerate hearts from the contours of worldly living. It is to remind us that the promises of this world will never supersede nor annul the eschatological reality that awaits His children at the return of Christ. History is moving toward a telos—an end goal—and what will sustain the church is found in the promises of God instilled through His Word by the power of His Spirit. The North African church father, Augustine, speaks of the providential hand of God in suffering by saying,

If they were sensible about it, however, they ought instead to attribute the harsh and bitter blows they suffered at the enemy’s hands to the divine providence which often uses wars to correct and destroy the corrupt ways of human beings—or, again, uses such afflictions to put the righteous and the praiseworthy to the test and, once they have been proved, either to convey them to a better world or to keep them here on earth for further service.[1]

Suffering, then, is antidotal to the love of this world. It strengthens our posture and sets our gaze toward the eternal rather than the temporal. Like a power lifter whose pursuit is for Olympic gold, the suffrage during training is a small price to pay on the road toward competitive glory. When her hand is hoisted up and the golden medallion is hung over her head, the countless hours and endless sacrifices will seem meager in comparison to the victorious glory that will last forever. Similarly, the Apostle Paul states, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). Suffering, to this end, reminds us of our true home.


Christ our Savior is Enough. The mind that is renewed by Christ sees that the aim of life is to be found inChrist. All other gifts pale in comparison to the reality that is found upon our union with Him. Therefore, suffering can be endured because of the hope that is set before us. Like Christ, according to the author of Hebrews, who “for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Suffering, as was stated earlier, weens us from the confines of this broken world. To this end, Christ invites us into suffering. Jesus says, “And whoever does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me” (Matt. 10:38; italics mine). Paul adds, “if [we are] children, then heirs—heirs of God, and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him” (Rom. 8:17; italics mine). This invitation, then, is not an appeal for suffering-sake. Rather, it is a bid to come and “see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8); that is, He is enough! In Christ being enough, He is and will have all the resources to help us in times of need. As Dane Ortlund rightly concludes, “When you come to Christ for mercy and love and help in your anguish and perplexity and sinfulness, you are going with the glory of His own deepest wishes, not against them.”[2]


He will Hold Me Fast:


In surveying these thoughts about suffering, I do not want to minimize nor ignore the stark reality of suffering itself. There are family members and friends that have been lost. There are sicknesses and illnesses that must be endured. There are horrific trauma and abuses that must be overcome. There is a myriad of circumstances that cross the spectrum of suffering that are experienced even at this moment upon reading this blog. Again, they are not to be downplayed nor diminished. Yet, what I do want to stress is that in the midst of these experiences, our Father is not far off. He is not passive in these endeavors nor is He absent. Rather, it is in these instances where He is holding His children fast. He is present and available by His indwelling Spirit. The aim of these endeavors, then, is to remind us that He is more and that He is enough despite the circumstances we find ourselves in. And by His providence, “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). To this end, may we fight for joy in knowing that we fight in His strength. As Jonathan Edwards so rightly conveyed, “True virtue never appears so lovely as when it is most oppressed; and the divine excellency of real Christianity is never exhibited with such advantage as when under greatest trials: then it is that true faith appears much more precious than gold, and upon this account is ‘found to praise and honour and glory.’”[3] Soli Deo Gloria!

 

***footnotes***

[1] Augustine, The City of God, Abridged Study Edition, trans. William Babcock (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2018), 1.1.2.

[2] Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020), 38.


[3] Jonathan Edwards, The Religious Affections (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 2007), 21-22.

 

McYoung Y. Yang (MDiv, SBTS; ThM, MBTS) is the husband to Debbie and the father to McCayden (12), McCoy (11), McColsen (9), and DeYoung (6). He is a Teaching Pastor at Covenant City Church in St. Paul, MN and a homeschool dad to his four children. McYoung is continuing his doctoral studies at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO. His ambition is to use his training as a means to serve the local church in living life through the Gospel lens.

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